case in point

"Sherlock" Author Responds

The Seattle playwright who penned Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol rebuts PM’s critique. intro by Anne Adams; letter from John Longenbaugh

By Anne Adams November 28, 2011

Last week, Culturephile reviewed John Longenbaugh’s “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol,” crediting the playwright for his crisp, witty dialogue, but noting that the concept of subbing Sherlock for Scrooge posed some overarching problems. This morning, we received the following thoughtful, fair-minded, and eloquent response from Longenbaugh. Though his points do not assuage this reviewer’s original objections, they do establish an authoritative voice on the topic of Sherlock Holmes, and prove that the writer has subjected his own work to a thorough analysis. Thanks, Mr. Longenbaugh, for joining this conversation.

Dear Ms. Adams:

I read your recent review of the Artist’s Rep production of my Holmes/Christmas Carol play, and I just wanted to drop you a brief note. While I disagree with many of your points, I wanted to thank you for taking the work seriously enough to write a critical appraisal. When I was originally writing this piece, my goal was to create a play that didn’t simply take a snazzy concept and give it a simple-minded Christmas treatment. I worked hard to do so, and it heartens me when critics take it as a serious script, and not simply a clever commercial holiday vehicle.

As to where we disagree—well, I fundamentally believe that you’ve misread both my play and my inspirations. Scrooge at the start of Dickens’ novel isn’t “willing to let crippled Tiny Tim die in the streets.” In fact he probably doesn’t know who Tiny Tim is. He has no interest in Bob Cratchitt, his family or any other living person. All of his interest has become consumed with money, and so he’s terminally isolated from society at a time of year when we should be most aware of our connection to all other people. This results in a man who’s an easy mark for the three spirits. When he’s first shown his child-self by the First Spirit, for example, he weeps—clearly a sign that he’s ready for some sort of redemption.

In contrast to Scrooge, Holmes isn’t an easy mark. He has many good arguments for being “a creature of conscious choices” who needs to be alone to pursue his work, and it isn’t until the full nature of that work, the use of his intellect with no regard for its use or misuse on his fellow man, is revealed that he finally is open to redemption. He also isn’t going to end this play by becoming a figure of society and good will. But what makes his personality so fascinating to me is that he is always as a person balanced on the edge—between misanthropy and charity, exultation and despair, doing good and knowing evil. Other writers have, with varying degrees of success, pushed Holmes far off into the darkness. There are pastiches where he is reimagined as Moriarty or Jack the Ripper, for example—though I don’t find those convincing or much fun. For me a Holmes who’s turned away from Watson, the man who is in many ways the heart to balance his mind, is horrible enough.

As an agnostic who nevertheless celebrates Christmas, I believe that the possibility of personal redemption in the company of our fellow human beings is the greatest gift of the holiday. You may believe that Holmes would never require such a redemption, or that such personal salvation is in some way unnecessary. Again we disagree. The death of Moriarty is, I would argue, a murder, even if “justifiable,” and is surely a worse crime than anything that Scrooge ever committed.

As to Holmes’ acceptance of the ghosts—well, here I can only say that we differ in our approaches to the character. While it’s true that the character in the Canonical books repeatedly dismisses the possibility of the supernatural, Conan Doyle was of course himself a spiritualist, and fully believed in spirits. And there are numerous pastiches, such as those collected in “Shadows Over Baker Street,” which pit Holmes against any number of supernatural creatures.

Despite our disagreements, I do appreciate your review. It’s certainly more interesting than many of the reviews I’ve received up to now, and that’s why it’s the only one I’ve chosen to reply to. I would say the greatest impression it leaves me with is that you’re jonesing for a good production of “A Christmas Carol” to put you in the proper holiday mood. I hope you’re able to find one during the next week or two. I think that Dickens’ original is frankly unsurpassed—though perhaps it could use a few variations now and then.

Best to you, and happy holidays,

John Longenbaugh

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